The Encounter and the end of ELT

Rob fuck-and-shit Sheppard’s version on Twitter of what I said to Scott at the recent InnovateELT conference needs correcting. Here’s what really happened:

Me: Scott!

Scott:  David! How good to see you. Loved your talk; I wish I could have been there.

Me:  You’re too kind. I’m Geoff, actually.

Scott:  Deaf? That explains everything!

Seriously though, Scott’s talk sucinctly hit the nail on the head: simultaneous machine translation software radically affects the need to learn English.

In today’s world, English is a lingua franca and that’s why close to 2,000,000,000 people are learning it. A series of devices are being designed that make it possible for speakers of different languages to communicate with each other in real time without the need to use English. Such is the rate of progress in this area of software and hardware development that in 10 years time, tourists, lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc., will simply not need to communicate with each other in English any longer. Much (not all, but a significant amount) of the communication that today is done in English by non English speakers will be done by people speaking their own language and having it translated by machines. English as a lingua franca might remain, but the need for most people to learn English in the way they do today will vanish.

So: functional needs are disappearing. But social needs remain. For caring professions, human communication remains beyond the reach of machines. And gaming too – if you like that stuff. The implications are profound for all of us. I won’t go on. Here’s Scott. What I find touching about this video is Scott’s diffidence: the usual confident demeanour gives way to a hestitant, almost reluctant style. It’s like he really doesn’t want to deliver his awful message . But he’s right, and we need to deal with the truth of what he’s saying right now.